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The Zero Draft

There is a wonderful book titled Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day by Joan Bolker. In the book, Bolker talks about writing "the zero draft." The zero draft is a private document designed for the writer to get his or her thoughts down on paper, which is also known as a "brain dump." Bolker's next stage is writing a private document for the writer's eyes only. In that stage, the writer is trying to figure something out, to arrive at the truth to the best of his or her ability, and the writer is his or her own audience. At this stage, don't be a perfectionist, and remember what John Maynard Keynes said, "It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong." When you are writing everything but the final draft, give yourself permission to write notes in the margins about what you think, feel, have hunches about, and anything else that comes to mind about what you have written. In other words, you can produce a written dialogue and that dialogue will help you develop both your thinking and your writing. Even if 90 percent of these thoughts are later discarded, you will find that the remaining 10 percent will be rich and valuable. In stage three, the writer writes for his or her intended audience, and in stage four the writer has produced something of great value both for himself and for his intended audience.

The beauty of Bolker's stages is that they not only hold true for writing but also for developing a presentation. Think of the zero draft as a way to get your ideas down on paper. The first draft, outline, or mind-map can then be developed. At this stage, you are the audience and you can jot down in the margin any thoughts whatsoever about the presentation. Again, even if 90 percent of these thoughts are later discarded, you will find that the remaining 10 percent will be rich and valuable.

In truth you can begin the zero draft at any time before you do anything else or after you craft your title. Developing a presentation is really an iterative process. This means that you may develop a better title or story or draft at any stage in the preparation of your presentation, and although the elements are presented individually, they really work together synergistically. An improvement in any one of the elements can lead to an improvement in any of the other elements and an improvement to the presentation as a whole.

In stage three, you rework your presentation with a specific audience in mind, and in stage four you produce a presentation that has great value both for your intended audience and for yourself. But it doesn't end here; you must practice and get feedback on your presentation to fine tune both the content and the delivery.


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